Eisenhower Library, Eisenhower papers, Whitman file

Memorandum of Discussion at the 173d Meeting of the National Security Council, Thursday, December 3, 19531

top secret
eyes only

Present at this meeting were the President of the United States, presiding; the Secretary of State (for Items 1 and 2); the Secretary of Defense; the Director, Foreign Operations Administration; the Director, Office of Defense Mobilization. The Vice President did not attend because of his absence from the country. Also present were the Secretary of the Treasury; the Director, Bureau of the Budget; the Chairman, Atomic Energy Commission; the Federal Civil Defense Administrator; the Under Secretary of State; the Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff; the Director of Central Intelligence; the Assistant to the President; Robert Cutler, Special Assistant to the President; C. D. Jackson, Special Assistant to the President; the Acting White House Staff Secretary; Bryce Harlow, Administrative Assistant to the President; the Executive Secretary, NSC; and the Deputy Executive Secretary, NSC.

There follows a summary of the discussion at the meeting and the chief points taken.

[Here follows discussion on item 1. “Significant World Developments Affecting U.S. Security.”]

[Page 1637]

2. Analysis of Possible Courses of Action in Korea (NSC Actions Nos. 794 and 949-d;2 NSC 147;3 NSC 170/14)

After briefly sketching the background of this problem, Mr. Cutler invited Admiral Radford to present his reports on (1) objectives and courses of action in Korea in the event of a resumption of hostilities by the Communists and (2) courses of action in the event of a prolonged stalemate in Korea.

At the outset, Admiral Radford stated that he wished to clear up any misunderstanding of the Joint Chiefs of Staff reports on both these subjects. He referred to General Bradley’s earlier plan of last spring,5 and pointed out that this plan was responsive to circumstances which would permit the United States a period of nine to twelve months in which to build up its forces in Korea. The problem the Joint Chiefs of Staff were asked to discuss in the present paper was of quite a different order, namely, what course of action to follow if the Communists suddenly initiated a renewal of hostilities. There would be no time for an advance build-up, and the U.S. and UN forces would be compelled to strike back immediately with whatever forces they had available. The circumstances would thus be not wholly unlike those which existed at the end of June 1950 when North Korea had attacked South Korea.

Admiral Radford then read portions of a written report describing the military objectives and courses of action in this contingency6 (copy of this report filed in the Minutes of the 173rd NSC Meeting). In the course of reading from his memorandum, Admiral Radford indicated his view that the Chinese Communists were unlikely to resume hostilities in Korea unless they were of the opinion that global war was a very strong possibility. Hence the outbreak of such hostilities would probably dictate to the United States the decision to proceed promptly to full mobilization.

After discussing the concept of operations in detail, Admiral Radford emphasized that the role of U.S. and UN ground forces would largely be limited to the actual theatre of war in Korea and not spread out to Manchuria or China proper. In essence, therefore, the concept of operations called initially for a massive atomic air strike which would defeat the Chinese Communists in Korea and make them incapable of aggression there or elsewhere in the Far East for a very considerable time.

The President asked whether, in the course of considering this course of action, the Joint Chiefs had laid out their target system. Admiral Radford replied that they had not.

[Page 1638]

The President then inquired whether the course of action outlined by Admiral Radford contemplated going further into China than the course outlined by General Bradley last spring. Admiral Radford replied there had been misunderstanding on the point of expanding operations into China, but before he could elaborate on this point, the President expressed with great emphasis the opinion that if the Chinese Communists attacked us again we should certainly respond by hitting them hard and wherever it would hurt most, including Peiping itself. This, said the President, would mean all-out war against Communist China.

When the President had finished speaking, Admiral Radford returned to the President’s unanswered question and observed that the Joint Chiefs had not been able in the circumstances to work up a military plan of operations in the usual form or comparable to the plan presented earlier by General Bradley. Unlike the circumstances of General Bradley’s plan, the Joint Chiefs could not know, in the contingency of a future Communist resumption of hostilities, when such hostilities were to be expected, what forces the Communists would have in Korea, or what forces the UN and U.S. would have available to oppose such a Communist attack. At the outset of the war, in any case, operations would almost certainly have to be limited to Korea, Manchuria and North China.

The President said that he wanted an answer from Admiral Radford to a simple but very serious question. Did Admiral Radford believe that we would be at war with Communist China if they once again attacked us?

Admiral Radford replied in the affirmative, and stated that we had no option but to treat the attack in this way. We would have to strike against the Communist Chinese in the air from Shanghai all the way north.

The President stated that this fitted exactly into his thinking, and he could see no other way of treating a renewed Communist attack. Admiral Radford observed that he had always thought that we had been at war with Communist China ever since the intervention of the “volunteers”.

The President then raised the question of how long a time it would take to get from the Congress a declaration of war against China. He referred to the charge against Mr. Truman that the latter had fought an unconstitutional war because of his failure to secure such a declaration from Congress. The President expressed a desire to avoid a repetition of this difficulty, since we would need the support of Congress and the people in prosecuting the kind of war envisaged in Admiral Radford’s report. Certainly, concluded the President, the first move in such a war would be a rapid and thorough attack on the enemy’s airfields.

[Page 1639]

Mr. Cutler noted that Admiral Radford’s course of action contained no mention of a naval blockade of the Chinese coast. Was such a blockade implicit in this course of action?

Admiral Radford said that this was one more indication of the difficulties which the Joint Chiefs encountered in trying to plan for this contingency. Whether we blockaded or not would simply have to depend on what naval forces were available at the time of the attack. Certainly, however, we would blockade the Chinese coast as soon as we could get the ships in a position to do it.

Secretary Dulles then asked if he might be heard on this subject. He said it was not for him to question the military implications of the courses of action recommended by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, but he felt that he could be useful in discussing the political implications of these courses of action. It was plain to him, continued Secretary Dulles, that Admiral Radford’s course of action contemplated general war with China and probably also with the Soviet Union because of the SinoSoviet alliance. He felt that there were grave disadvantages to a course of action such as this, and the State Department believed that other steps could be taken by the UN and U.S. forces which would be less likely to involve the Soviet Union in the war. The State Department felt that the first of such courses of action amounted to a full atomic strike in Korea itself. The second involved the bombing of troop concentrations in and near the area of Korea. In addition to these two steps, Secretary Dulles said that there were two others which he himself believed could likewise be taken without serious risk of bringing in the USSR. These were (1) a blockade of the China coast and (2) the seizure of various offshore islands and most particularly Hainan Island.

The President broke in to inquire whether the Secretary of State would be willing to add just one other course of action which the President emphatically believed we should follow, namely, that the U.S. and UN command should have the right of hot pursuit against any attacking plane to its base, wherever that base was located.

Secretary Dulles replied affirmatively to the President’s query, and then went on to discuss the political disadvantages which he perceived in the course of action outlined by Admiral Radford. Over and above the cardinal point that the Soviets were almost certain to enter the war, Secretary Dulles predicted that there would be virtually no UN participants with the United States in any general war against China. We would thus be isolated from our allies. Furthermore, Admiral Radford’s proposed course of action would raise serious problems for us in the Far East itself. There was grave question that Japan would permit the United States to use Japanese bases if they concluded that such permission would expose them to direct Soviet attack. In addition, we would have a terrible problem in dealing with Chiang Kai-shek, who, of course, would consider a war between the U.S. and Communist China [Page 1640] as his long-wished-for golden opportunity to invade China. Meanwhile, we could consider it as a virtual certainty that the pursuit of Admiral Radford’s course of action against China would induce the Chinese Communists to send a large force, of perhaps 300,000 troops, into Indochina. This would certainly result in the defeat of the French Union forces there.

Lastly, said Secretary Dulles, it was necessary to give very careful consideration to our position in Europe as it would relate to our position in the Far East if we followed Admiral Radford’s suggestions. The USSR was not likely to engage itself heavily against the United States in Asia if to do so meant pulling its forces, especially its air forces, out of Eastern Europe. On the other hand, if the United States embraced a course of action which amounted to initiating general war in Asia, most of the West European countries would immediately run to cover by seeking a neutrality pact with the USSR. This would be something like the situation in the spring of 1941, when, in order to free its forces in the Far East for use against the Germans on the Western front, the USSR had concluded a neutrality pact with Japan.

In support of these views, Secretary Dulles pointed out the very considerable opposition which Prime Minister Churchill had evidenced when we sought his adherence to the so-called “greater sanctions” commitment. Sir Winston had obviously attempted to wriggle out of the commitments made on this point by the previous Labor Government, and was only induced to support the greater sanctions statement on the assumption that the action to be taken by the UN in the event of renewed Communist aggression would be limited to operations in areas adjacent to Korea. He was plainly unwilling to stretch the meaning of the greater sanctions statement to embrace support in a general war with China or a global war involving both China and the USSR.

In view of all these disadvantages, Secretary Dulles said that, at the very least, the problem needed further study.

Upon conclusion of Secretary Dulles’ comments, the President asked him whether he was in effect advocating a course of action which would be similar to the kind of war that we had prosecuted in Korea since 1950. Secretary Dulles replied that this was not his recommendation, and that what he envisaged was the prosecution of a war which would produce a victory in Korea. This, of course, was quite a different thing than Admiral Radford’s report had advocated, which was the prosecution of a war to achieve a total victory over China. To that, said Secretary Dulles, the State Department was opposed.

Admiral Radford said that he believed that the discussion had gotten a good bit off the track. He pointed out that it had been virtually impossible to make any long-range military plans for dealing with a new Communist attack because of our inability to envisage the precise position we would be in when the attack occurred. What his own report [Page 1641] had attempted to do was to set forth a U.S. course of action in immediate response to a Communist attack. What steps we should take thereafter were still subject to consideration and decision.

The President commented that he was at least clear on one point. In any future war there was to be no sanctuary for Communist aircraft in Manchuria. However he was going to fight the war, he was not going to fight that kind of war.

Secretary Wilson observed that after listening to all this discussion he didn’t really believe that there was any serious difference of opinion between the Secretary of State and Admiral Radford. The President agreed with Secretary Wilson, as did Admiral Radford himself.

Where the Joints Chiefs had got off the track, continued Admiral Radford, was in making certain assumptions as to the objectives to be sought by the United States in the event of renewed Communist aggression, which objectives should really have been sought by the military from the National Security Council. Obviously we would strike back against such an attack in the first instance with all the forces at our disposal, but the delineation of subsequent objectives should be determined by others than the military planners. Specifically, however, Admiral Radford said that he must take issue with Secretary Dulles’ contention that initiation of the Joint Chiefs’ course of action would result in an invasion of Indochina by 300,000 Chinese Communist troops. This was one more example of our continuing tendency to ascribe undue capabilities to the Chinese Communist forces. Admiral Radford was confident that in the event of a Chinese invasion of Indochina, the French and Vietnamese would be able to hold at Haiphong.

Secretary Dulles said that he could perhaps have been wrong in this position, but the Director of Central Intelligence interrupted to state that the Secretary’s views were in general supported by the intelligence community.

Secretary Dulles then summed up his views on this problem by stating that he was quite sure that any resumption by the Communists of hostilities in Korea would eventually end in general war. Nevertheless, we should not treat such a resumption of hostilities as general war from the very beginning. It was necessary to have an interval in order to bring our allies along to share our own point of view. It was for this reason that Secretary Dulles felt it dangerous to provide the military with a decision now which might permit them to make a general war automatically in Asia in response to a Communist attack.

While Admiral Radford expressed agreement with this general conclusion, he warned that tying down the commander in the field with too many strings would be dangerous, since it was his first duty to protect the security of his forces in Korea.

The President stated that he felt there was no real difference between the two positions, and it seemed to him best that the Joint Chiefs get [Page 1642] together with the State Department and revise their views in the light of the discussion. He felt that out of this Admiral Radford would have all that it was necessary for him to have to meet a Communist attack in the future.

Governor Stassen inquired whether the manner in which the Communists actually started a new war would make a great deal of difference in the character of our own and allied reaction to it.

Admiral Radford replied by stating his belief that if the Chinese Communists started hostilities again we would probably be able to detect their preliminary build-up and thus have some advance warning. Nevertheless, he pointed out, they have even now, in violation of the armistice terms, succeeded in building up an even larger air capability in North Korea.

In conclusion on this report the President said that he must admit the necessity of distinguishing between airfields adjacent to the Yalu River as opposed to targets in the south of China. There was certainly a difference.

Mr. Cutler then asked Admiral Radford if he was ready to speak on the second paper, setting forth a recommended course of action in the event of a prolonged stalemate in Korea.

Admiral Radford summarized this course of action, and stated the agreement of the Joint Chiefs of Staff that in this contingency it would be advisable to redeploy a substantial number of U.S. forces from Korea as soon as the Republic of Korea army had reached the level of 20 combat-effective South Korean divisions.

The Secretary of State said that he was 100% behind this recommendation, and Secretary Wilson likewise heartily endorsed it.

Admiral Radford went on to indicate that the Joint Chiefs proposed to leave behind in Korea, after this phased redeployment, one army corps to consist of two U.S. divisions and one composite UN division, together with a strong military assistance and advisory group. Furthermore, it was thought inadvisable to weaken notably the air and naval forces already stationed in Korea. In this connection Admiral Radford pointed out that the goal of the 20-division ROK army was not very distant. If equipment were available the level should be reached in two or three months, and if our returning divisions leave their equipment behind, that problem would be solved.

The President, the Secretary of State, and Admiral Radford all agreed on the excellent psychological effect which we would obtain if we could quickly redeploy two U.S. divisions from Korea. Such redeployment would indicate to both our enemies and our allies our confidence in being able to maintain our objectives in Korea; it would indicate that we had no intention of making war on Communist China; and the withdrawal of the divisions might also have a salutary effect in deterring President Rhee from unilaterally resuming hostilities.

[Page 1643]

Secretary Humphrey expressed enthusiasm for a prompt redeployment of two divisions, as did Secretary Wilson, who noted that such a move would fit in very nicely with a three-year program upon which he was now engaged in the Defense Department.

Secretary Humphrey then inquired why we could not start the redeployment of the two divisions immediately. What were we waiting for?

Admiral Radford reminded Secretary Humphrey that, after all, the Council had just finished a discussion of courses of action in the event of a renewed Communist attack, and pointed out that we must not be caught in a position from which we could not strike back if the Communists attacked.

Secretary Wilson, however, strongly supported Secretary Humphrey’s call for prompt action, stating that he would like to be able to count on having the two divisions back in the formulation of the Defense Department budget for the Fiscal Year 1955.

The President said that he saw no reason not to go ahead and start action in this direction even before the Council received a revision of the course of action which Admiral Radford had recommended in the event of a renewed Communist attack.

Admiral Radford replied that the decision to withdraw the divisions depended on a decision by this Government as to when we could be said to have entered into “a prolonged stalemate”. These were the terms of reference of the problem.

The President replied that in his mind this was not the essential question. It was, rather, a decision as to the date or time when it would be prudent to withdraw these two divisions. The time when we expect the 20 ROK divisions to be combat-ready, of course, had an important bearing as to the appropriate time to redeploy the two divisions.

Admiral Radford said that he believed the 20 ROK divisions would be reasonably combat-ready between February and March of next year.

The President then suggested that the two U.S. divisions be withdrawn from Korea between the first of March and the first of May, and that they be brought home and demobilized. He went on to say that he wished to be able to state this to Churchill when he met with him in Bermuda. Pointing out that Churchill considered himself a very great tactician, the President observed that it would be necessary to give him a very clear explanation of our withdrawal of these two divisions, and also to explain why we expected Sir Winston to keep his own British forces there. After all, the British had never really sent sufficient forces to Korea anyhow.

Secretary Wilson stated his belief that we could quite properly redeploy two U.S. divisions without any formal consultation with our UN allies, though we should, of course, have to consult with them on the further phased withdrawal down to the minimum of the single army corps.

[Page 1644]

Governor Stassen warned that it was vital to consider how we explained to our allies and to world opinion the reasons for this redeployment.

(At this point, Secretary Dulles left the meeting, and Under Secretary Smith took his place.)

The National Security Council:8

Noted and discussed:
An oral report by the Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff, on the military objectives and courses of action proposed by the Joint Chiefs of Staff in the event of a renewal of hostilities in Korea by the Communists.
An oral report by the Secretary of State on the political implications of pursuing the courses of action outlined in (1) above, and on certain possible alternative courses of action suggested by the Secretary of State.
Agreed that the Department of State and the Joint Chiefs of Staff should prepare, in the light of the discussion, a restatement, for Council consideration before January 1, 1954, of the initial military objectives and major courses of action to be undertaken in the event that hostilities in Korea are renewed by the Communists.
Noted and discussed a recommendation by the Joint Chiefs of Staff regarding the reduction of UN forces in Korea within the framework of paragraph 10–b of NSC 170/1.
* d.
Agreed that, pursuant to paragraph 10-b of NSC 170/1:
Assuming a continuation of present conditions, two U.S. divisions should initiate, about the first of March, a redeployment from Korea.
Subsequently, in the event of a continued stalemate in Korea, agreement among our UN allies should be sought for:
A phased reduction in UN forces in Korea initially to a strength of approximately one army corps of three divisions, consisting of two U.S. and one composite UN division, supported by tactical air units and appropriate naval forces and supplemented by a comparatively large U.S. military advisory group; and
Deferring the decision as to any further reduction in UN forces until the situation obtaining after completion of the initial reduction can be observed and evaluated.

Note: The action in b above subsequently transmitted to the Secretaries of State and Defense for implementation. The action in d above subsequently referred to the OCB as the coordinating agency designated by the President for NSC 170/1.

[Page 1645]

[Here follows discussion on items 3. “Reappraisal of the Military Effect of Relaxation of Control of Trade With the Soviet Bloc in Strategic Materials” and 4. “Disclosure of Atomic Information to Allied Countries.”]

S. Everett Gleason
  1. Drafted by Gleason on Dec. 4.
  2. For texts, see memoranda of discussion at the 145th meeting of the NSC, May 20, and the 168th meeting, Oct. 29, pp. 1064 and 1570, respectively.
  3. Dated Apr. 2, p. 838.
  4. Dated Nov. 20, p. 1620.
  5. Presumably the reference was to the JCS memorandum to Wilson, May 19, p. 1059.
  6. The reference was to the JCS memorandum to Wilson, Nov. 27, p. 1626.
  7. The following paragraphs and note constituted NSC Action No. 972, a record copy of which is in S/SNSC (Miscellaneous) files, lot 66 D 95.
  8. It is requested that special security precautions be observed in the handling of this Council action. [Footnote in the source text.]